I’m edit­ing a short story and I’ve stum­bled upon a prob­lem. I fre­quently use struc­tures like:

  • Agony had my in­sides con­vuls­ing.
  • De­feat had me slump­ing into a chair.
  • Fear had my body shak­ing.

My ques­tion is, are these sen­tences cor­rect as writ­ten, or should they be writ­ten like this:

  • Agony had my in­sides con­vulse.
  • De­feat had me slump into a chair.
  • Fear had my body shake.
  • In the second set, "had" doesn't work for me. I'd use "made" or something similar.
    – ralph.m
    Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 22:15
  • They are fine and the structure is pretty common. Why are you unsure of their correctness? Can you explain further?
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 9:35
  • Like I said, I use structures like Defeat had me slumping into a chair, so HAVE/HAD + Person/Thing+ Verb -ing form. Then I looked over the causative structure which is Causative Verb + Person/Thing + Verb (infinitive form), and I wasn't sure anymore which version was correct.
    – MihaelaP
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 9:58
  • If you could find two versions, then how would you suspect one of them may not be correct? As I always ask here: Why should only one of alternatives be correct? They may or may not mean the same, though.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 6:01

2 Answers 2



No, you shouldn’t swap the verb com­ple­ment from con­tin­u­ous form to its in­fini­tive form as you’ve sug­gested do­ing. The change in as­pect would sub­tly al­ter the mean­ing: they are not equiv­a­lent. If you did that, it would mean some­thing else subtly different.

Look at it this way:

  • If your mother had you eat your peas, then that means she made you eat the peas, and they are are now eaten and done with.

  • In con­trast, if she had you eat­ing your peas, she did some­thing to leave you in the state that you were (still!) eat­ing your peas, not that you had al­ready fin­ished do­ing so as in the orig­i­nal.

Tech­ni­cal De­tails

When you use the verb have in a tran­si­tive way with an ob­ject and then an­other com­ple­ment, that com­ple­ment ex­presses ei­ther (1) the ac­tion that the sub­ject causes the ob­ject to take, or (2) the re­sult­ing con­di­tion of the ob­ject caused by that sub­ject.

All this falls under OED sense #28 for the verb have: [paywalled link]

  1. transitive. With complement expressing an action or state caused by the subject. Also with will or would indicating volition or requirement; cf. will v.¹ 40a.

Both your ex­am­ples are of this sort. The dif­fer­ence be­tween them is that the first uses a bare in­fini­tive for its com­ple­ment, while the sec­ond uses the progressive ‑ing form for its com­ple­ment. Here are ex­am­ples from each of the OED’s four sub­­senses for sense 2, vary­ing by the type of com­ple­ment:

  1. He had the guns counted. (com­ple­ment is past par­tici­ple)
  2. She had them in tears. (other com­ple­ment)
  3. What would you have me do? / I'll have you know. (com­ple­ment is bare in­fini­tive)
  4. He had them rolling in the aisles. (com­ple­ment is ‑ing verb)

Both your ex­am­ples are non-fi­nite verb phrases/clauses, but they mean slightly dif­fer­ent things, cor­re­spond­ing to the third and fourth OED sub­senses for sense 28.

The third sub­sense is this one:

  • c. With bare infinitive (formerly also †to-infinitive, †at and infinitive) as complement.

    (a) To in­duce, pre­vail upon, or com­pel (a per­son) or to suc­ceed in caus­ing (a thing) to do some­thing; e.g. what would you have me do? Also (in weak­ened sense): to cause or set (a per­son) to do some­thing for one. Cf. get v. 28a.

    Also oc­ca­sion­ally with pas­sive in­fini­tive: to cause or com­pel to un­dergo the spec­i­fied ac­tion; cf. sense 28a.

    See also I'll have you know at Phrases 3b.

In sim­pler words, it means to “make” some­one do the spec­i­fied ac­tion. So she had me eat peas could have been writ­ten she made me eat peas in­stead. Those two mean the same thing.

The fourth sub­sense is the type be­ing used in your three orig­i­nal sen­tences:

  • d. With present par­tici­ple as com­ple­ment. To com­pel, in­duce, ar­range for (a per­son or thing) to be do­ing some­thing; e.g. he had them rolling in the aisles. Cf. get v. 31b.

So the dif­fer­ence here is one of as­pect. The (c) case is a bare in­fin­tive so there is no con­tin­u­ous as­pect in­volved. The (d) case by us­ing the ‑ing form of the verb uses the con­tin­u­ous as­pect to con­vey that the ac­tion was an on­go­ing one, that it was in progress.

Here for the record are the first two sub­senses from the OED:

  • a. With past par­tici­ple as com­ple­ment. To cause or ar­range for the spec­i­fied ac­tion to be per­formed on (a per­son or thing); e.g. he had the guns counted. Cf. get v. 29a(a).

  • b. With com­ple­ment. To bring into the spec­i­fied state or con­di­tion, esp. de­lib­er­ately; to cause to be­come; to make, ren­der; e.g. she had them in tears. Cf. get v. 26a(a).


Agony had my insides convulsing. This is normal.

Agony had my insides convulse. This (a) personifies Agony and (b) seems to imply a third party who was instructed by Agony to cause your insides to convulse - perhaps by administering poison?

  • 1
    Try and include some authentic references to support and strengthen the argument, though.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 5:56

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